There are times in life when everything falls into place, and my visit to The Bear Inn turned out to be one of these occasions.
Hodnet is considered to be Shropshire’s finest Tudor village, with black and white timbered buildings on every corner and curly brick chimneys spiralling up from almost every rooftop.
It’s near the North Wales border between Birmingham and Manchester – so close enough to get to, but far enough away to feel like a real adventure.
The Bear Inn is 500 years old with a history to match; its cellars and tunnels have hidden rebellious monks and provided smugglers with respite, and are allegedly home to ghosts. And, many moons ago, a bear was kept down there, hence the freehouse’s name.
Stan Cullimore spends the night at The Bear Inn (above), which is located in the village of Hodnet in Shropshire
Elegant: Stan says the inn ‘oozes gentility and style’. Pictured is the wood-panelled dining room
Nowadays, the inn is an altogether different beast. Owned by Sir Algernon Heber-Percy and his wife Lady Jane, who live over the road in the country estate of Hodnet Hall, The Bear was refurbished by their son Tom.
Guests can choose from 12 bedrooms, bring their dog and dine in the handsome wood-panelled restaurant. It is run by Mel Board and chef husband Martin, who are known in the area for transforming another Shropshire pub, The Haughmond in Upton Magna, into a destination restaurant with accommodation.
Under their tender care, The Bear oozes gentility and style – while the exterior suggests a modest pub, inside you will see designer Octavia Dickinson’s modern approach to country-house style with a folk-inspired twist. Original artwork and bold colour sit well alongside the civilised local scene in the bar, while the restaurant hosts foodie guests and couples on romantic getaways.
Stan says guests should explore the village during their stay. He reveals that from March, you will be able to stroll to Hodnet Hall to marvel in the gardens created in 1922 (pictured)
The bedrooms have ‘punchy fabric headboards’, writes Stan
The food is glorious, simply superb. Sourced locally from sustainable suppliers, including beef from their own cattle and fruit and vegetables from Hodnet Hall’s walled garden, every dish is beautifully balanced and perfectly proportioned. The lunch menu offers suggested pairings, and I went for the pigeon starter, followed by a tender pink venison loin with roast carrot, blackberry jus and delicate mash, washed down with a warming glass of Italian red.
Pudding was a pear tart with honeycomb soldiers accompanied by a lightly chilled Pedro Ximenez sherry.
Bedrooms are gorgeous, with punchy fabric headboards, hefty curtains and cushions, as well as super white cotton bed linen.
The reading lamps and Nespresso machine tempt you to curl up inside but you should check out the village, and it’s not too far to the village store next door or to St Luke’s Church opposite.
From March, you will be able to stroll to Hodnet Hall to marvel in the gardens created in 1922. They are stuffed with different trees, rhododendrons, camellias, crocuses, daffodils and magnolias, plus a chain of seven lakes and pools.
For a change of scenery, make your way to The Haughmond for supper – I went for their four-course tasting menu, featuring monkfish with shrimp, samphire and beurre blanc, followed by beef sirloin with red cabbage and peppercorn.
Next morning, The Bear’s breakfast proved to be a similar culinary success – the full Shropshire including a sausage patty, bacon, black pudding, tomato, mushrooms, beans and poached eggs was excellent.
A Michelin experience in a destination pub.